You know those tests to determine whether you are right brained or left brained? Well, every time I take one of those tests, I get a result that basically says I am equally controlled by the left and right sides of my brain. I know it’s mostly bunk, but this makes sense to me. On one hand, I’m usually very logical, yet can be dreamy and whimsical, I love facts and figures, but just as equally love art and music.
When it came time to choose a career, my gut told me that I wanted to be an interior designer, but my head told me to go into something medical, which would almost guarantee me a decent job. You see, I’m from the small, modest town of Wadena, Minnesota. Not many people pay for interior designers there, in fact, the concept seemed foreign and unstable. On the other hand, people never stop getting sick… So I went with my head and began my career in Histology, which is the study of tissue. I was told it was the “perfect mix of art and science”. Win win right?
If you want to know what Histology is, (I get the question a lot) read on, otherwise, skip to next paragraph.
To simplify things, you know when you get something removed, like a strange looking mole on your skin? Well, my lab gets that mole in a bottle with a diluted form of formaldehyde, called formalin. A section of the mole, no thicker than a nickel is cut and put into a small cassette. It is put into a processor overnight. This preserves, dehydrates and infiltrates the section of the mole with melted paraffin (like candle wax). Then next day I take it and create a block of tissue (the tissue surrounded by solidified paraffin). From this block I can cut sections thinner than a piece of tissue paper. (one cell layer thick) These sections are laid on a heated bath of water, and picked up with a glass slide. I can then stain this slide and put a thin piece of glass over it to keep it from scratching off. From there, a pathologist can look at this slide under a microscope and determine whether or not you have say, a melanoma. It is the same process for all types of tissue and species. The fun part is, I can recut that same block of tissue, and stain it a different type of stain. There are hundreds of stains. One stain may be able to detect fungus in your tissue, another may detect bacteria, calcium, iron, etc. Then there is a field called Immunohistochemistry, that can actually trigger an immune response in that small piece of tissue that results in a stain that can detect all sorts of diseases and cell types. This can help narrow down the origin of the type of cancer a person may have, which in turn, helps determine the best way to treat that cancer. Pretty amazing right?
So I have a great job, I worked at Essentia Health, Innovis at the time, for 7 years, and am now starting my 8th year at NDSU in the veterinary diagnostic lab. I run the Histology portion myself, which I love, but it can be lonely and stressful at times. (and it’s hard to take time off!) I am very thankful for my career, but the whole “perfect mix of art and science”, well, that was mostly crap. You see, while I get to create some pretty slides, art is about creativity. I am, under no circumstances, allowed to stray from the “standard operating procedures”, in my field. And that is understandable. But it does leave a creative mind feeling a little restless.
A few years into my career (about 11 years ago) I confided to my husband Ryan, that I wanted to start stockpiling used furniture and décor items and “fix them up” so that someday I would own my own boutique. I’d name it “Furniture Facelifts” or something hopefully better. I started my future business with a pair of chairs. I painted them black, reupholstered the seats, nothing special, but I was hooked and I thought they were the greatest chairs in the world.
Shortly after this, a store in Moorhead opened up called Funky Junque. Everything in the store was displayed so well, the work was so fun, and very unique at the time, and precisely how I envisioned my future boutique to look. After touring the store with my husband, I felt quite dejected. I imagined myself going back into the store and begging the owner to somehow go into business with me. Me with the full time job that I could not quit, no additional money whatsoever, and my two painted chairs. Ah shucks….. So I gave up the dream then and there.
But you can’t keep your creative bug locked up. Over the years I found myself taking on lots overzealous house projects, some good, some…. not so good. We flipped a house just before the market crashed -I don’t want to talk about it. I also spent a year writing a book of short essays, and another year trying to find an agent and publisher. I had no real place to land all my artistic thoughts and ideas and I would become obsessive about the strangest things, like the year I spent studying decorative concrete applications. We even made our own concrete countertops.
Fast forward to 2012. I was sitting in the break room at work, talking to my co-worker and friend Kelly. She casually mentioned that there was a type of updated version of a craft show with furniture in town over the weekend, called the Junk Market. Hmmmmm.
I didn’t go to the Junk Market, I don’t remember why, but the thought of it hovered over me for a few days, or weeks, and I decided to look up how to be a vendor. Now, I’m no risk taker, I am usually logical remember, and I happen to be very self-critical, to the point where go out of my way to not put myself out there to be judged. I am incredibly sensitive to harsh and even unharsh criticism. In fact, as a child of the 80’s, I didn’t dare wear the brand “Squeeze jeans” because I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone yelled out to me “yeah, I bet you had to SQUEEZE into those jeans fatty?”
But, the heart wants what it wants, and I wanted my boutique, or a smaller weekend version of it. So I went for it. I bought my first piece on the way home, and painted it that night. Over the next months, I bought books, subscribed to magazines and read countless articles and blogs on the best ways to paint furniture and began to stockpile.
Now, if you would allow me to digress a moment, I am no stranger to a certain type of craftsmanship. Besides my many personal painting experiences, I grew up watching and learning from my Dad. He was the shop teacher at Wadena-Deer Creek High school and also made custom furniture. We’re talking high end, solid wood, gorgeous furniture. The kind that makes other furniture bow their heads in their ugly shame. So many nights growing up, we’d be driving home from here or there, and he’d make a turn that meant we weren’t going home, but stopping at his shop for a quick “something-or-other” that usually lasted at least an hour. I’d cringe at these moments and can recall the hours I spent there, watching him with his handiwork, impressed but mostly impatient. Only now I can appreciate those memories. Whenever I cut into a quality piece of wood, or open up a can of stain, the scent brings me back to those days, watching my dad and the care he put into every detail of his craft. There is something so comforting about the sounds and smells of a workshop. I know my work is quite different than my Dad’s, but I’d like to think it would have made him proud of what I have learned and accomplished.
My mom on the other hand is a talented artist as well, she can paint murals and portraits, and sketch in a way that makes my chicken scratch look like it was done by a monkey. She is also the most resourceful person I know. If she thinks something, anything, needs to be improved upon, she’ll find a way to do it. Immediately. And usually for little cost. She’s the ultimate re-purposer and DIYer. Cool parents huh?
An opportunity like the Junk Market was something I had prayed about for many years, and by the time I set the plan in motion, my husband and I were really scrapping by financially. Even the prospect of buying up “cheap” furniture was impossible for us. But, as he does, God provided in a miraculous way. Ryan got a side job cleaning out foreclosures. This meant, that at times, free discarded furniture would fall into my lap. His job didn’t last long, but long enough for me to get plenty of great pieces to start my business, when we had very little to put into it the first year.
So, as you all know, I did get into the Junk Market, and what a relief it was, because I had a LOT of furniture ready to go.
So once I knew it was in, I became obsessive, as I tend to do. I ordered a tent, mapped out my stand on grid paper, (over and over) and did everything I could to make it a great first show. My friend at work, Kelly, the same one that told me about the Junk Market in the first place, took some professional photos for me, and I posted them to my new Facebook page, which had a total of 6 likes. By the time the Junk Market rolled around, I was at 72!!
We rented a U-haul and I was fortunate enough to have members of my family to help with the kids, set up, and run the show. The next morning, bright and early (I think it was around 5 am) we headed for the Eco Chic parking lot in West Fargo. I was so anxious/excited/exhausted. I still had curlers in my hair as we unloaded my precious furniture onto the parking lot.
Unfortunately, with any outdoor event, especially in Fargo, the weather played a huge roll in this process. Here we were, June 1st… and we were getting gusts of wind that, even with 200 pound tent weights, sent my tent flying up into the sky. It was cold, in the 40’s and drizzling. There was no way we could set say, a jewelry box on top of a dresser, it would blow right off, so all my small items remained in boxes, waiting for a break in the weather. For the next couple of hours we heard one crash after another from other vendor booths. It was all-together not what I had envisioned. Then my crash came. One of my largest pieces, a mid-century hutch, blew face down on the pavement, breaking its leg and smashing the glass doors to pieces. So there was glass everywhere, a tent that had to be constantly held down, a light rain saturating all my painted furniture….. you get the idea. So after the crash, it was about that time where I thought I would have myself a really quick cry. I crawled under one of my tables to screw the top to the base and let it go. Like the song. Only my version came with a snot fountain. (i cry through my nose) At one point another vendor kindly leaned under the table to offer me a word of encouragement, and slowly backed away at the sight of me. Curlers, snot and buffy eyes. My sister-in-law Jamie who was helping with the set up could see my disappointment. She took me aside and suggested I disconnect from this situation for a bit and go get changed (aka… lose the curlers) at my sisters and she and Ryan would finish up. (have I mentioned how much I adore my sister-in-law?)
So I did, I gathered myself together and drove the few blocks to my sisters where she had hot coffee and a sympathetic ear for me as I got dressed. Then we went back to the show together and I was feeling ready for whatever came my way. By that time, we had been given permission to also use our U-haul to display things, because of the wind. Jamie and Ryan had taken the top off my tent, so the wind wouldn’t catch it, and things were set up as best they could be.
And there was a line of people waiting to get in! A long one.
Then is began! And people bought stuff, stuff of mine! In fact, I may have witnessed someone jumping the gate to claim a dresser I had done. That’s dedication. (but, you know, probably don’t do that) Everyone was so nice, the other vendors were great, no one was mean or competitive, the staff at Eco Chic was delightful and helpful, and mostly, all of you were so, so kind. And encouraging, and in that yucky weather, brave (or maybe little crazy).
I even sold, at a steep discount, my broken hutch that was laying out in the lawn.
In contrast, the weather was still not nice for the remainder of the day. It was raining on and off, and unseasonably cold and windy. My sister Shawna and Ryan were such help, and stuck by me all day! Thankfully, I did ok with the sales, lots and lots of small items, a few big. But as we were loading the U-haul at the end of the day, I started to feel like maybe my sales were not all that good afterall, the U-Haul still had to be strategically packed like a Tetris game and the promise I made to my family that “we would get our garage and house back” was a bust. Look out kids, the furniture is coming back home.
Is it bad admit that I had hoped the U-haul would be hauling loads of money bags with gold dollar signs on the outside and nothing else?
While Ryan returned the U-haul, I sat in the car and for the second time that day, I may have gotten a little teary. I had let myself and my family down. We drove home in silence, and then Ryan, who is a man of few words, and even less in the complimentary department, told me that he was very proud of me, that he couldn’t believe the positive responses he received and what a success the show was.
That was just what I needed.
The second thing I needed, and got, was some absolutely stunning photos that Kelly took for me of my booth space. She brought them into work on Monday and I’m telling you, she made the day look beautiful. I credit her skill a great deal for what happened next.
I posted the photos into an album on my Facebook page which still had very few followers. But things started moving gradually and gratefully Eco Chic, who had a LOT of followers, posted my album as well. That got things moving a lot faster. My computer was getting notification after notification for days, it was crazy!! In 24 hours, I got over 300 likes on my page alone. Within a few weeks, I had sold almost all of my major pieces!!!
So that was the story of how I got started and my first show ever, I am so thankful for the experience, the people who have helped me get to where I’m at, and the endless encouragement from so many individuals, (minus the guy who said a piece of mine was atrocious last year). I hope to continue to refine my craft, my skills, and my judgement as I build my little business.
And finally, I am happy to say, that with the addition of “de-uglied designs” to my life, both sides of my brain are working in
almost perfect harmony.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read.